This evening's commute began somewhat better than this morning's - but it was still nightmarish for thousands of people stranded on the second day of the SEPTA strike.

At Suburban Station the lines of commuters waiting for trains seemed to snake in every direction, but it was controlled chaos as scores of SEPTA office workers managed the flow of riders.

"Please take your time. There's no need to rush. Have a great day," Maryanne McQuaid, who normally works at a desk making bus schedules, announced to the line descending to the R3 West Trenton platform.

Jerry Heston, 54, who works in Center City and was trying to get home to Bucks County, took the delay in stride.

"What are you gonna do? You can stamp your feet and whine all you want. You're still in line, so make the best of it," said Heston.

When Heston first learned of the strike, "my first reaction was something you can't print, but you get past that," he said.

Behind him in line for the R3 was Lisa Nobile Pettit, 36, a state worker who had the day off yesterday because of the election.

"I probably should have come down here earlier," she said as she stood behind nearly 200 people waiting for the next train.

But then the line started moving and she and Heston made it to the train as McQuaid and other SEPTA workers led 225 commuters down the stairs.

As 5 p.m. approached, the lines grew so long that SEPTA workers asked people to stand "two-by-two." But as quickly as the lines swelled, they shrank in bursts as riders were allowed onto trains.

But 45 minutes later, the lines began to dwindle as trains with extra cars rolled into the station and swallowed up huge numbers of people.

Not so lucky were commuters waiting for the R3 to Media. The seemingly endless line stretched down several long corridors.

Mary Gibbs, 40, waited an hour to get to the stairs to track 3 for her train. "This is the longest line I've ever seen in my life," she said. "It's terrible."

At 5 pm, Sandi Joseph, 44, arrived at the end of the R3 queue.

"Goodness gracious!" she exclaimed.

Joseph said she normally takes the Market-Frankford El to her car parked at 46th and Market. But because of the strike, she has to take the R3 to 49th and Chester.

Joseph said she wasn't angry with the striking workers, but she felt the union "should probably have stayed at the table a little longer before running away."

The full impact of the work stoppage became more evident today as public school students returned to school after a day off.

That meant yellow school buses and cars driven by parents ferrying children to school were added to the mix that brought near gridlock conditions in some parts of the city yesterday.

And with commuters already struggling to get in and out of - or through - the city, the affect of the strike spread to the suburbs, which was spared major disruptions yesterday.

Strikers set up pickets this morning at SEPTA'S 69th Street Terminal disrupting bus and trolley lines that were not supposed to be affected by the work stoppage.

Union picketers kept Victory Division buses corralled in a garage throughout the day and kept them from running their routes, said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams.

"At 2 p.m., out of 134 buses only 14 were allowed out," Williams said.

Picketers also shut down Trolley Routes 101 and 102, and blocked the track at the Fairfield trolley station, she said. The 101 trolley travels between Media and 69th Street going through Drexel Hill and the 102 trolley runs from 69th Street to Sharon Hill. About 13,000 commuters use the 101 and 102 trolleys daily.

Williams said SEPTA is filing for an injunction against the union to allow the trolleys and buses to run again.

As if that did not complicate an already muddled transportation picture, a fire in the lead car of a four-car Regional Rail train disrupted service on the R5 line during the morning rush hour, stranding hundreds and leaving many more without an alternative means of travel for two hours.

There is no sign as to when the strike might end, but Gov. Rendell was meeting today with SEPTA officials and leaders of Transport Workers Union Local 234 whose 5,000 members walked off the job at 3 a.m. yesterday, shutting down subway, trolley and bus service in the city.

The strike - which management had not anticipated - was called late Monday night, when most users were already in bed for the night.

By today, commuters should have been better prepared deal with the strike than they were yesterday, but that did not alleviate the crush of traffic in Center City and on major thoroughfares in other parts of the city.

Once again, vehicles slowly made their way - bumper to bumper at times - on I-95, the Schuylkill Expressway and the Vine Street Expressway.

More of the same is expected tonight as is crowding on Regional Rail lines that many commuters have turned to as substitutes for their regular subway trains, buses and trolleys.

City school officials worried how the commuting would go as dismissal time and rush hour approached.

"We expect this afternoon that we are going to face some gridlock and there are going to be some delays, so we hope parents understand. We'll try our best to go as quickly as possible," said district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

The district had no preliminary attendance numbers as of midafternoon. But a poll of eight district magnet schools – expected to be the hardest hit because they draw students from around the city – showed that attendance was down significantly. It ranged from 51 percent at Franklin Learning Center to 84 percent at Central High School.

"The big challenge for some students will be getting home," said Johnny C. Whaley Jr., principal of the High School for Creative and Performing Arts, where attendance was at 76 percent. "I have a regular CAPA home and school meeting tonight. Some students will probably be joining me for dinner."

Meanwhile, attendance at Archdiocesan high schools had returned to a better-than-normal 92 percent, up from 80 percent on Tuesday, spokesman Kevin Mulligan said.

"A lot of it has to do with the families putting a plan together to try to get their children here today," said Brother Patrick Cassidy, assistant principal for academics at West Catholic High School. "I'm grateful that they could do that."